It’s time to pull a heist. Whether you’re trying to break your boo out of Arkham Asylum, hiding your affair with Thomas Crown from your spouse or stealing the Death Star plans with the dopest droid ever, you’re gonna need yourself some stealth. You’re scrambling together a comic-book version of “Ocean’s 11,” and these 15 undetectable underdogs are who you’re gonna wanna call first, ideally on a burner phone.
To qualify, characters in question had to appear in comics, with sneaking, stealing or deceiving being a primary factor in their power sets or overall themes. As the adage goes, “there’s more than one way to steal The Declaration of Independence,” so espionage experts, felonious phantasms, thrifty thieves, masquerade masters, ill (as in “good”) illusionists and sneaky shape-shifters all qualify.
How is Clayface, the giant clay golem that often has a mace for a hand, stealthy? While the lesser Faces of Clay are muddy monsters, the best Clayfaces know how to use stealth tactics effectively. In “Batman: The Animated Series,” Clayface breaks off pieces of himself to serve as sentient scouts, or a roaming gang of child-sized pickpockets, not unlike a dirtier Oliver Twist. Coincidentally, Clayface is often depicted as a former actor, which is super convenient when you have the ability to sculpt your face into whatever. Clayface is at his (its, technically) best however, when writers twist it into walking plot-twists. In “Batman: Hush,” Clayface is able to pull off a Scooby Doo worthy double de-masking.
There are so many criminals who have gone by Clayface, so this entry is more of a dynasty devotion to the Clayface clan — the one exception being the Clayface from the “Birds of Prey” show, who could inexplicably turn people into clay. Also, at one point, all of the Clayfaces formed a cabal called “The Mud Pack,” which is a terrible name for a super villain group but a terrific name for a “Puddle of Mudd” fan club.
14. BLACK WIDOW
Originally appearing in April 1964’s “Tales of Suspense” #52, Natasha Romanov is a graduate of the Red Room Academy, a secret Soviet program devoted to creating female sleeper agents. Comic book Black Widow has no powers beyond suppressed aging, which is just a fancy way of saying super hotness. To compensate for her lack of powers, however, Black Widow effectively trademarks her gear, calling her grapple line gauntlets her “Widow’s Web,” which is a pretty good runner up to “web shooters” all things considered. Her electric tasers, which are also located on her gauntlets, she calls her “Widow’s Bite.” Hey, do you think Black Widow ever accidentally harpooned a henchman in the neck with a tiny spear instead of tasering them by pressing the wrong gauntlet button? No, because she’s a consummate professional.
Poorly designed gadgetry aside, Romanov is one of the best physical combatants in the Marvel universe, at one point protecting The Thing by fighting 100 henchmen by herself. In addition, Black Widow has enough combat prowess to go toe-to-toe with the Winter Soldier, Captain America and Daredevil, depending on who is writing her.
A resident of the “Starcraft” universe, Nova is a Ghost — not to be confused with Marvel’s Ghost nor its Nova — sneaking into the digital comic “Nova: The Keep,” as well as her own manga series; thus, she slides into this list via a technicality. November Annabella Terra, or “Nova,” is one of the Ghost Corps’ most powerful members, featuring a psi index of 10 — basically equivalent to one pre-Zerg Kerrigan. Likewise, Nova completed her Corps training in about half the time it takes a normal candidate — two years in her universe, 25 seconds in ours.
If having psychokinetic powers wasn’t enough, Nova is equipped with a standard issue Terran Ghost load-out, which features a sniper rifle powerful enough to literally headshot the devil, and a hard light hologram decoy projector. Likewise, Nova likely has the only active camouflage drive in popular culture that doesn’t deactivate when hit by a gentle breeze. Finally, Nova is the only individual on this list who can call down a nuclear strike with a laser pointer without going through the trouble of stealing launch codes or becoming Fake-President. Not exactly stealth, but not the worst B-Plan neither.
The shape shifting mutant known as Raven Darkholme to her homies, Mystique is a mistress of disguise originally appearing in “Ms. Marvel” #16 (1978). In addition to being a better double than the Chameleon, Mystique can also serve as a field leader on operations, with experience leading the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants while Magneto was (temporarily) dead. Granted, Mystique will almost definitely double-cross you on any sort of heist, as she is wont to do. Mystique is also perfect for long-term espionage, being able to play both genders perfectly. Seriously, creators Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum almost made Mystique Nightcrawler’s daddy.
When it comes to body doubles, you can’t beat Mystique. That being said, Mystique’s clothes are generated through her powers, so what happens when she’s at an event that requires the removal of a layer, like a fancy dinner party? What if someone accidentally spills wine on her white flesh shirt? Does she just try to morph in a stain? Also, if Mystique’s cover is blown, by some sort of smell-based security system we guess, that leaves you with a super conspicuous naked nipple-less blue woman gun kata-ing all over the place.
For this entry, we have the master of stealthily leaving lame parties early, Batman. Being the one member of the Justice League who’s just some guy, Batman often has to rely on his ninja training and nigh-superhuman ability to scramble really fast across the floor to dodge gunfire, just like a bat. Seriously, Batman has been depicted both in “Final Crisis” and “Justice League Unlimited” as the only individual who can respectively outgun/outrun Darkseid’s Omega Beams/Effect, which sends you across infinite realities. Somehow, playing out that one episode of “Rick and Morty” with the dimension goggles is worse than death to Darkseid.
Anyway, Batman is one of the few individuals on this list to acknowledge that blue is a better color for a sneaking suit, as it blends into the night better. When Bruce’s body gets too old and creaky for ninja-stealth, he installs an active camouflage into the Batman Beyond suit. Not above disguises, Batman also often double-masqueraded as prominent criminal Matches Malone, with a fake mustache — the obligatory (if oddly specified) supervillain look.
Everyone’s favorite faux French professional, Fantomex, sneaks onto this list despite constantly wearing a stark white leather duster. A result of the Weapon Plus Program, Fantomex is a master thief primarily for the fun of it. The stealthiest thing about Fantomex is his mutant power to weave fantasies that are indiscernible from reality. These aren’t mere tricks but “illusions.” So, instead of spending millions on a replica casino vault only to get busted because of a missing floor decal, just have Fantomex make one with the flick of the wrist and a knowing psychic nod. Fantomex can also double as a wheelman, being able to summon E.V.A., a sentient flying saucer that likes chocolate.
Fantomex’s illusions are more useful than general telepathy, as it can be utilized on robots, aliens, other mindless automatons, and even you, fair reader. Does Fantomex really have a villa built into a side of a mountain where his blind mother lives, or was it all an illusion!? While you wrap your head around that, Fantomex is, like, three people now, one of whom had sex with a computer program. Obviously, that Fantomex is the best-worst of the trio.
Originally appearing in “Batman” #1 (Spring 1940) as a feline femme fatale, Catwoman is the proverbial Rachel to Batman’s Ross when she isn’t stealing. As impressive as her thievery is, what’s more impressive is that Catwoman is one of the only individuals capable of stealing Batman’s heart without the help of any chemical substances or superhuman abilities. Like any cat, Selina has a high amount of survivability, perhaps best demonstrated when the Penguin placed a one million dollar bounty on her head. This bounty earned Selina the attention of nearly every mobster ever as she had to escape Gotham in the appropriately named “Run Like Hell” arc from “Catwoman” #47-52. Incidentally, if you somehow manage to disarm Catwoman, good luck successfully ducking her whip in close quarters combat.
Why does Catwoman rank higher than Batman? Because Catwoman is purrfect for heists. Selina Kyle is basically Batman, but devotes her life to stealing cool stuff instead of fighting crime and training child soldiers in green shorts. Also, in the place of a utility belt, Selina often utilizes just a ton of duct tape, encountering almost no problems whatsoever. Kinda makes Batman look stupid in retrospect. Hey! Speaking of cats…
8. KITTY PRYDE
Kitty Pryde, commonly known as Shadowcat and more recently known as Star-Lord, was originally known as Sprite. No really, they were even aware of the obvious soda puns when they gave her the moniker. Dumb codenames aside, Kitty is blessed with the mutant power set of intangible stealth. Kitty’s primary ability is to phase through objects, conveniently frying circuitry and electronics when phasing through them. At that, Kitty is a master hacker, essentially making her a translucent tech-master. Shouldn’t Kitty phase through her clothes or fry her Star-Lord helmet when she uses her powers, though? Look, her best friend is a an alien dragon, okay? Let’s not nitpick.
Despite being unable to carry a cellphone on missions, Kitty is also trained in ninjutsu and deep-space combat. Likewise, Kitty’s “defensive” phasing power can be used offensively as well. If she chooses to, Kitty can solidify herself while phasing through flesh, leaving herself intact while piercing through her opponents effortlessly. In “Death of Wolverine,” Kitty demonstrates this by solidifying a fist through Lady Deathstrike’s hand with a most satisfying crunch.
Chameleon is actually the first villain Spider-Man ever fought (not counting retcons) way back in “Amazing Spider-Man” #1 (March 1963) by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Learning almost immediately (and painfully) that he would never be able to match the wall-crawler in physical combat, Dmitri Anatoly Nikolaevich Smerdyakov Kravinoff (heretofore known as “Chameleon”) compensates for his lack of fighting abilities with his acting prowess. Seriously, while apparently half of this list was learning ninjutsu, Chameleon was spending the bulk of his life honing his craft, not unlike some sort of devilish Dicaprio.
Combine Chameleon’s acting abilities with a series of ludicrously detailed latex masks and a voice changer, and you get the quintessential master of disguise in the 616. Incidentally, Chameleon’s lack of fighting abilities perhaps works towards his advantage. While most stealthy guys have their weapons primed as a back-up plan, Chameleon has to ensure his deception is successful, cognizant that he cannot fight his way out if he fails.
Leader of the Dreadnoks and occasional ally of Cobra, Zartan is the most masterful master of disguise from “G.I. Joe.” Zartan’s main masquerading machinations involve an adaptive chameleon-like skin and/or hologram harness. What if you’re pulling off a low budget heist, however (which is to be expected if you’re planning on robbing a bank)? No worries, mate, Zartan is a master of makeup and general costumery. Even lower budget? Zartan is a master ventriloquist. It’s up to you to figure out how ventriloquism is useful for thievery, though. Regardless of your bank-robbing budget, Zartan has his stolen bases covered. Also, Zartan used a bow before it was cool, most notably when sniping Serpentor and Hard Master.
Also, we would just like to point out that in “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” Zartan is the only member of Cobra to actually rise. Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Cobra Commander ended the movie in ice-jail. Zartan nonchalantly whistle-walked away as Fake-President. That’s easily the most convenient means of stealing The Declaration of Independence. Coincidentally, Fake-President Zartan is played by Johnathan Price, who also plays Fake-President Mystique in “X3: The Last Stand.”
Originally appearing as an Iron Man villain in “Iron Man” #219, Ghost is perhaps best-known for his tenure as the paranoid MRE-loving hacker on “Thunderbolts,” Marvel’s answer to “Suicide Squad.” Ghost is basically a super-powered Mr. Robot; a former IT guy who turned to corporate espionage and phantom-hacking for a paycheck.
Originally appearing as essentially a Ghost-Robot, modern depictions of Ghost have one of the coolest character designs in comics. Rocking a customized sneaking suit of his own design — unlike nearly every other bootlegging Iron Man villain — Ghost can phase through any computer system that he can’t hack his way into. The suit allows Ghost to become invisible or intangible, but never simultaneously. The only thing that may give Ghost away, however, is the cloud of flies constantly buzzing around him. Ghost refuses to shower — if he ever feels like taking off the suit, that is. Ghost never wanting to take off his stinky stealth suit makes some sense, as he is the only individual on this list whose secret identity is actually a secret.
4. SUSAN STORM
Yeah, when your professional name describes your power set perfectly and efficiently, you easily earn a spot on the stealth list. Susan Storm, more commonly known as the Invisible Woman, may not be as hot as The Human Torch nor anywhere near as attractive as The Thing, but she remains far and away the most powerful member of The Fantastic Four. You throw the queer (literal definition) quartet into a “Battle Royale” sort of scenario and Susan wins, every time. How are you going to check your watch to verify how soon you are to clobbering if your eyeballs are invisible, you big dummy?
Susan can also make invisible forcefields as big or small as her translucent heart desires, meaning that she could simultaneously snuff out a Human Torch-shaped nova and also give Wolverine a lethal brain aneurysm just for fun. Breaking into random safe deposit boxes? Why not just turn the entire vault invisible piece-by-piece until you see exactly what you need? Also, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Susan has the power to basically kill anyone anywhere and leave behind not even a trace of evidence.
3. SHADOW THIEF
DC has had three Shadow Thieves, with the shadowiest of them all being the original created by Gardner Fox and Joe Kubert for “The Brave and the Bold” #36 (1961). Traditionally a Hawkman villain, Carl Sands was able to experiment with shadow projection, opening a portal and saving the life of one Thar Dan of the Xarapion dimension. Instead of a Green Lantern Ring, Dan gives Sands a Dimensiometer, and a pair of ebony gloves. With the Dimensiometer, Shadow Thief can turn into a shadow, while the gloves allow him to manipulate physical objects while in the shadow realm. Oh, he also knows ninjutsu. That’s like every stealth trope.
Being able to fit into wherever shadows fall, Shadow Thief is the quintessential grease-man. The only drawback with the Dimensiometer is that it’s crazy addictive, which is understandable when you have a belt that makes you as attractive as Mr. Game & Watch. In “Identity Crisis,” Sands goes weeks without turning the belt off. Sands has gone to extreme lengths chasing that shadow dragon, including selling his soul to Neron for an apex shadow suit that allowed him to turn people and objects into shadows, which is useful… maybe?
Does “Metal Gear Solid” the graphic novel qualify as a comic? Uhh, are cardboard boxes the most sophisticated piece of military hardware ever designed? Snake — be it Solid Snake, Naked Snake, Big Boss, Old Snake, Venom Snake (but not really?), Keifer Sutherland, or Iroquois Pliskin — is the quintessential sneaky guy, who crawled into our hearts in 1987’s “Metal Gear,” basically creating the entire stealth action video game genre.
Depending on how you play, Snake can wriggle his way out of any scenario, from fighting a bisexual vampire (that’s a vampire that is bi, not a vampire that exclusively feasts on bisexuals) to extracting goats from combats zones with a sky hook worthy of “The Dark Knight.” If things get hot, Snake can call in an attack helicopter to rain missile-based oblivion down upon your enemies while playing the a-ha classic, “Take on Me” over the loudspeakers. Snake will even offer “favors” to get out of an authentic 1960s era Russian jail cell, when all he needed was a fork and/or ketchup for blood. That’s dedication. Snake’s best friend is an otaku, and frequently collaborates with a cyborg ninja with K-Pop hair.
Teleporting into the top spot we have Kurt Wagner, the incredible Nightcrawler. Appearing in a Prince-worthy purple cloud of smoke in 1975’s “Giant-Size X-Men” #1, Kurt has general sneakiness built into his power set. Despite his demonic appearance — which is understandable when your daddy is a demon pirate — Nightcrawler has omega-level cuteness. As Kurt’s “X-Men Evolution” incarnation explains, “Chicks dig the fuzzy dude.”
Nightcrawler’s primary power is to teleport typically up to two-miles out of harm’s way, maxing out at over 400 miles when teleporting Hope from Las Vegas to San Francisco while dying. In addition, Nightcrawler is able to climb on walls, flip/dance through laser hallways thanks to years as an acrobat in the Munich circus, and typically just move without being heard. If things get bad, Nightcrawler is also a skilled swashbuckler, being able to wield up to three swords thanks to his prehensile tail. Scratch that — Kurt can use one of his feet to quadruple wield swords, not unlike a fuzzy General Grievous. If things get really bad, Nightcrawler can teleport his way out of heaven, apparently whenever.
Did your favorite stealthy individual sneak by undetected? Can you think of another master/mistress of disguise? Let us know in the comments!